my 40s now, and I knew I was ready to write a piece about my father that was really
different and significant, not some sort of Potsy, Fonzie, Happy Days sort of thing,"
he said. "When we play the opera at a show, we string all the songs together as one
piece. And unlike a rock show that ends in some kind of huge finale, the set sort of just
goes on -- dreamy, quietly --- because it represents the ending of a day."
At times rocking, and at other times, just plain strange, there's nothing quite like
" on the shelves of your local music store. But it's that
unbridled willingness to create something different that's been a hallmark of Watt's
career since he and D. Boon formed the Minuteman in 1980 in the port city of San Pedro,
"D Boon's mom taught me how to play bass," Watt said. "When we first
started playing together, we tried to cover the big rock songs, like 'American Woman' and
'Black Dog.' Then we saw these punkers one night in LA, and they couldn't even play their
instruments. Some of them weren't even musicians; they were artists, but it didn't matter.
Right then we knew that we could do our own thing and not have to play the other
Watt talks excitedly -- at about a thousand words a minute -- as he reminisces about
the old days when the Minutemen were developing their style. "We toured all the time,
and we recorded an album about every six months," he said. "That's what it was
about, playing for whomever would listen and creating new stuff."
It was a ripe time for punk rock. Though they were forging an angry new path with some
of their most influential music, such as "Buzz or Howl Under the Influence of
Heat" and "What Makes a Man Start Fires," they weren't alone. Other acts
also were changing the course of modern American punk music, including Husker Du, Bad
Brains, REM, Sonic Youth and the Meat Puppets.
"It was an exciting time," Watt said. "We weren't trying to copy each
other or out-do each to become rock stars. We watched, listened and kept track to see what
new ideas each of us had and what directions we were going. Seeing Husker Du perform 'Zen
Arcade' pushed us to do our own a double album, 'Double Nickels on a Dime.' And it's still
probably the best thing I've ever done. But there's still a better record inside of
The good times were shortlived, however. Just as the Minutemen were beginning to push
their sound to new heights in late 1985, guitarist/vocalist D. Boon was tragically killed
in an auto accident. Watt and Hurley went on to form fIREHOSE and stayed together
throughout the '80s and early '90s. Watt released his first solo album, "Ball-Hog Or
Tugboat?" in 1995. And despite keeping the punk fires burning all these years, Watt
says things will never be like they were with the Minutemen. "It's different because
I don't have D. Boon anymore," he says. "It'll never be like that again."
That's not all that's changed since the Watt/Boon years. Though he goes out of his way
not to be negative, Watt can't help but be a frustrated at today's music scene and how so
many bands are content with putting out product that conforms to the status quo. It's all
quite alien to a guy who fought for years just to have his music heard.
"When we were starting, there were places that wouldn't even let D. Boon on stage
because they thought he didn't look like a guy in a band. But we loved that, because we
knew we were different and we wanted to show them what we were about. Our music was about
rebelling against what was going on. Today, these bands just go out there and do the same
thing over and over again every night, with the same cookie-cutter sound. 'Alternative
music' today is what New Wave was to punk back then - it's the safe, acceptable punk music
for the masses. It's sad."
Sad, but not hopeless. Watt says the music scene can still capture the energy it had
when he first picked up a bass. "Yeah, I think we can we go back to where we were,
but I don't know how," he said. "That's one of the reasons why I'm still out
here. I think that maybe I can still contribute something and maybe get these kids to do
their own thing, whether it's a crazy opera or whatever."
So how much gas does Watt have left in his tank? I mentioned that 38-year-old Bob
Mould, one of the founders of Husker Du, recently announced his current tour with an
electric band would be his last. Would Watt take the same path?
"Hell no," he said. "I've still got a lot of stuff I want to do and a
lot of projects to complete, including a new album. I don't think Bob's quitting
altogether, he's just doing an acoustic thing. We don't play nearly as loud as he does.
And we set our speakers on their sides, so we're not getting blasted all night.
"So far, we've played 52 shows in 55 nights straight, and I feel great. I think
I'm in the best shape of my life. The trick is to watch what you eat and your chemical
intake, as well as keep track of your mind. You know, every night it's something
different, and playing the opera keeps it fresh.
"Yeah, I feel like I'm racing the clock sometimes, but I'm not stopping because
there's still a lot left to do."